The government has now almost finished demolishing five communities along the Chao Phraya's banks to make way for the controversial river promenade project.
Four months after the BMA's definitive verdict that it would be forging ahead with the Chao Phraya River Promenade, which will see a 14-kilometer (seven kilometers on each side) stretch of the river turned into a cycle lane, public walkway and riverside landmark, the clearance of the historic communities living along the riverbank has begun.
By the end of July, the BMA expects to demolish 14 communities, with work already underway. So far, five communities (Pak Klong Bang Khen Mai, Wat Soi Thong, Kiek Kai Pier, Khiew Khai Ka and Wat Chat Kaew Chongkolnee) have been cleared, their homes destroyed and residents relocated to new accommodation which some are already complaining fall below livable standards.
On Jul 21, we visited Wat Soi Thong and Kiek Kai Pier communities and spoke to their residents. “It’s heartbreaking for us to see our house being torn down," said Prakij Thamniam, 56, from Wat Soi Thong, whose family has lived along the river in the same home for four generations. "We totally understand that it’s illegal to live in this area so we have never planned to protest or anything. Still, my family has lived in this house for 100 years. It’s such a huge goodbye for us.”
Inside a former home at the Wat Soi Thong community
Others showed similar resignation to the BMA's decision, accepting that their homes along the river were never legally recognized. “I’m just an ordinary poor citizen. What can I do?" said Visutr Nasawang, 66, from the Wat Soi Thong community. "Fighting with the government is impossible because I know that it’s my fault to live here.
"The house was here long before I was born and now I’m in my 50s. I rent this land from the Soi Thong temple but now it has become the government’s land. I don’t know exactly what happened but I only have two choices now—either see the house gone without getting anything at all or leave with the compensation.”
The government has arranged relocation accommodaton for the five communities at the Kiek Kai Flats, not far from Kiek Kai pier. The old, five-story building belongs to the military and sits on Treasury Department land.
Many residents from along the river have been relocated to Kiek Kai Flats
However, many residents we spoke to complained of poor conditions within the building, and a lack of facilities, even requiring residents to buy their own trasnformers if they want electricity.
“I just couldn’t believe that, despite the B1,001 rent that I have to pay monthly, I’ll also have to pay B27,000 room fee for a space that has broken bathroom doors and windows," said Sunisa Khetgulee, a resident from the Kiek Kai Pier community. "I don’t feel safe at all. Moreover, there’s no elevator and I’m a 72 year-old woman living on the fifth floor with my daughter."
Supharat Pothisuwan, a former resident from the Kiek Kai Pier community
Her daughter, Supharat Pothisuwan, said that the eviction has also had a strain on their livelihood: "I used to own a restaurant by my house and now that's gone. My only income has gone forever and we are running out of savings. We have to wait for the government to pay us the compensation this Jul 26, from which the government will deduct around B30,000 as the moving-in fee [B27,000] and the contract fee [B3,000].”
For two-and-a-half years, the Chao Phraya River Promenade project has been headline news for all the wrong reasons. It's most vocal critic has been a group called Friends of the River, which has campaigned strongly against the promenade on environmental grounds and a lack of communication with the general public over how they would like riverside land to be utilized.
Defending the promenade, Antika Sawasri, a spokesperson from Chao Phraya for All (CPA), the design and environmental assessment team led by King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), told us in Oct 2016: "Our study found out that the promenade won’t affect people that much. You can’t view the Chao Phraya romantically anymore. People don’t wake up and take a bath or paddle their boat in the river these days. We should have more contemporary ways for people to use the Chao Phraya."